Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Letter from Ethiopia

Dear Reader

Cape Town, South Africa
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Ethiopia and revisiting South Africa, the country of my birth. I had never been to Ethiopia before and previous to that, heard many remarkable and wonderful things about it. Now that I have been there, I can safely vouch that it is remarkable country, rich in history, culture and tradition, with a delicious cuisine and great coffee. Most importantly, I found Ethiopians to be peace loving, and a warm and friendly people, and Ethiopia, a very safe place to be in. The lessons I learnt about and in Ethiopia will remain with me for a lifetime and has added to my development as a person, both personally and professionally. I am grateful, therefore, in this short way, to share my experiences with you.                                  

During January to April 2014, I conducted field research at African Union in Addis Ababa and at the Pan-African Parliament, an organ of the African Union in Midrand, South Africa. I chose to conduct interviews at both organizations mainly because I believed that they would better inform my insights on the legitimacy crisis currently characterizing the relationship between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the African Union (AU), a topic on which my research is based. Some of the arguments in favor of this position and also advocated for by the African Union is that the Court is biased because all its prosecutions are against Africans.

The ICC, on the other hand, maintains that as an institution set up to combat impunity, it is keeping to its mandate by advocating for justice and victims needs in Africa, which remain inadequately addressed by some African leaders. While many of these assertions may or may not be true, there is a perception that the rift is widening between the Court and its African constituency.
Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
To test this hypothesis, I decided that it would be best if I spent some time on the ground at the African Union, to see if this was indeed the case. The African Union is the spokesperson of African States and its relationship with the Court, from my perspective, should be explored more broadly than solely from a purely legal perspective, given the context in which it operates, namely more from a political vantage point. Similarly, the ICC, although established as a judicial institution and acknowledging itself as such, nonetheless functions in a politically charged, global environment. Taking these contexts into account, I have therefore decided to approach my research from both a legal and social science perspective, hoping to be better informed on the underlying issues, which needs uncovering.

The research methods I used during my travels were thus qualitative in nature, comprising participant observation and semi structured research interviews. Access to most respondents was secured through the snowball technique, a technique, which surprisingly was easy to accomplish at both institutions, where a very friendly and warm demeanor met me.

AU Headquarters, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
My initial observations of the AU were impressive, and the main thing that stood out, was the new AU headquarters, costing roughly around 200 million dollars, considered a generous gift from the Chinese government. This magnanimous gift from the Chinese symbolizes the extent of the newfound friendship China and Africa share and serves as a precursor to future investment and future relations between both countries. Aside from the impressive AU architecture, the highlight of my stay was attending the 22nd AU Summit in Addis, with this year’s theme, focusing on Agriculture and Food Security In Africa. The discussions were stimulating ranging from conflict prevention, climate control, illegal exploitation of resources, and increased agricultural sustenance for the optimal development of a prosperous Africa in the coming years. 

In order, to tackle its core problem of African disunity, the AU has focused strongly on African culture, heritage and identity through the promotion of an ‘African Renaissance’ coined by the former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, an intellectual and influential player within AU circles. The African Renaissance is aimed at fostering integration amongst African States, by forging a common African identity and is of particular relevance to the AU, because it contributes to strengthening the institution vocally, so as to speak with one voice, on vital issues of concern to Africa. Given its 54 member states, it is no easy task to mobilize and motivate States to unite on pertinent issues of particular relevance, especially when each State has its own political agenda and varied interests to take into account.

The AU, also, as an organization, focuses on security, and uses the full range of diplomatic and coercive measures available to it, to meet its mandate of fostering peace and security on the African continent. Given the severity of conflicts currently taking place in South Sudan, Mali and Central African Republic, peace concerns are pressing on the continent, and it is important to note that development of the African continent can only take place if conflicts are curbed and peace prevails. Peace, in other words, engenders development and development economic and social prosperity. It is therefore crucial for the AU to succeed in this part of its mandate if it is to be considered a legitimate regional institution in Africa and the world.                                                                 

Peace and Security Meeting AU Summit
These insights, I found are rather relevant because they relate to current ICC prosecutions, which some say, have had a destabilizing effect in certain regions in Africa, and impact larger concerns, such as peace efforts in Africa.  These and more related issues are explored in deeper detail in my thesis. So, whilst issues of AU and ICC discord go deeper than merely the ICC targeting Africa and the “race hunting of Africans”, I am optimistic that there is ample room for dialogue and improvement on this front. It is to this end that I am hoping that my research will contribute, and represent a balanced view of the issues at play, from the perspectives of both key players. I am grateful to report that a new chapter awaits me at the ICC where I will undertake a Visiting Professionals Programme for a period of three months, so as to be able to gauge the ICC’s perspective on issues of concern between itself and the AU. I look forward to report to you on my experiences at the Court, and the developments of my research, at a later stage. 

Yours sincerely,

Ingrid Roestenburg Morgan

Posted By Ingrid Roestenburg Morgan (Extracted from School of Human Rights Research Newsletter Fall 2014 available online at http://www.schoolofhumanrights.org/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF_files/Newsletter_OZS_RvdM_Autumn_WEBSITE.pdf

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